Grow Love

Grow what you love. Grow it for those you love. Watch the love grow. Nevin and Linda Sweeney have created a suburban oasis and share it with their community. Nevin and Linda started out with a small suburban lot, on the hot plains of western Sydney.

Nevin Sweeney talks about their experiences

With a focus on making their home and community more liveable, Nevin and Linda used Permaculture design to capture water, intensively grow veggies and shade the home and street. Here are some of the tricks Nevin used.

Oasis Loves Water

Water systems support the plants throughout the changing seasons. Nevin “put in about 18 to 19 000 litres worth of rainwater tanks and so part of the water system is making sure that you have efficient means of delivering it. For the annuals we have Ollas and for the perennials we have deep pipe waterers. And these both work remarkably well.

The second part of the water system is the waster water. “So, the shower or bath water goes into our Banana Circle which means the banana circle has gone berserk! It’s at the back of the house so not only has it provided bananas, it has also provided shade on the back of the house. “

Nevins bananas shading the back of their house

“I set up a diversion valve from the house. so when we do the washing up the wash water is diverted into my constructed wetland. And is then used to water trees”. Also, Nevin put together a wide tube that sat on top of the deep pipe watering system. “So, when I’m peeling the veggies and doing the rinsing, the water goes into a bucket. Then, I pour that bucket through the tube, straight down into the ground. I can do this any time of the day. Because that water is going straight underground. There’s no losses, no evaporation at all.”

Nevin starting out on a small, bare hot patch in western Sydney

Design is Key

“This is stuff that without my exposure to permaculture
I wouldn’t have had a clue about.” Nevin Sweeney

Sydney Morning Herald 2020

Outside the Oasis It’s Getting Hotter

The area around Nevin and Linda gets hot. In fact, in 2020 it was the hottest place on the planet. The temperature soared near 50 degrees. [120 Farenheit] Nevin says “it’s staying hotter for longer and the the seasons are changing.”

“What I found was I had a lot of difficulty growing the vegetables that I was used to growing. and so to get around that I covered most of the veggie growing area there are some things that don’t grow well under 50 shade cloth but most do. Although I am very very stubborn, sometimes stuff doesn’t work. Citrus works great but apples don’t. But there’s a lot of stuff (ie sweet potato) that grows really really well.

Nevins  constructed wetland

Microclimate Support

Part of this success is from improved microclimates, part of that is finding the stuff that you like to eat that actually grows. Years ago, Nevin was keen to try some climbing beans. “I’m not a huge fan of beans but the family likes them. And I eat them because I grow them and um I grew them up the side of the tanks and it worked really really well. And I tried to feed them the kids they went nuts saying “not eating that – don’t like them”. And so I went back to growing the shorter dwarf beans. And we’ve been growing that way ever since.

Grow what you love

Grow what you love

So, it doesn’t matter what grows well at your place you – if don’t eat it – there’s not a lot of point in growing it. So, it’s a case of combining what you like to eat and what grows well.

If you grow your own Chokos (Chayote) you can harvest them when they’re small. And then, they’re amazing in a stir fry. They’re crunchy and nutty. And you can add the choko tendrils to the stir fry. Just like Vietnamese cooking.

“Actually, we can produce enough food to feed ourselves comparatively easily if we were prepared to put up with a restricted diet.”

Nevin Sweeney

Chickens Dig It then Retire

Nevin says “In terms of Veggie patches we have 14 veggie patches. And of course, once I learned about chook tractors… I mean they’re an amazing piece of machinery! They do the digging, they do the fertilizing, you get eggs and you get chooks (chickens). Because chooks are fun!

Nevins seedlings in hand-made paper pots


The Cycle Starts With Seedlings

We grow our own seedlings. We plant into a seedling punnet and then into newspaper pots and then into the ground. And that happens all year round. So, that it didn’t matter what time you came to see us here we would have something growing we would have something that’s going off. We’d have something that’s coming up. We’d have the chooks on one part, and areas ready for the chooks. I’ve got to tell you we don’t eat our chooks.
We have a retirement village which is in shade which I keep filled with straw and the chooks there dig that over and turn that into mulch.

Tried and Tested Process

I’ve been using this process for 16 years. Okay, I’ve added a bit of rock dust, a bit of liquid manure and a bit of compost. But for the most part our fertility has been maintained by the chooks”

You can visit Nevin and linda’s site through Sydney Edible Gardens Tours or contact them directly through their webpage underthechokotree.com

Zone 5 Feeds Our Unique Ecosystem

Wildlife is a vital part of the whole ecology of a permaculture site. Dick Copeman campaigns for sustainability for humanity and the forgotten wildlife creatures in our delicate ecosystem.

Dr Dick Copeman is a humble leader full of inspiring ideas. He is one of the founders of Northey Street City Farm in 1994, and still involved in the Farm. Originally a medical doctor, Dick has also worked as a campaigner on food policy, fair trade and sustainability issues. He has a Diploma in Permaculture. And has co-authored the book ‘Inviting Nature to Dinner’ available at earthling enterprises . Here shows us how to integrate more wildlife in our permaculture designs.

Wildlife is a vital part of the whole ecology of a permaculture site.

No place on the planet is complete without
its full range of species.

Dick Copeman
Native Rosella Hibiscus with tiny insects at Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Garden
beautiful and tasty food for us as well as wildlife
Native Rosella Hibiscus with tiny insects at Shoalhaven Heads Native Botanic Garden

Wildlife Builds Diverse Ecologies

Each site has specific species who have, over millennia, shaped their own ecology. Each site has an unique ecosystem. The site needs this full and complex ecology to function effectively.

Dick says “If we diminish that wildlife by clearing habitat [and by ‘wildlife’ I include plants as well], excess degradation and too much disturbance well… the site is poorer. Many ‘permies’ realize this and they try their best to incorporate wildlife. I could see that that invertebrates are a very important part of wildlife that are often not acknowledged or overlooked in this whole scheme.

Common brown butterfly Seven mile beach 
National Park
beautiful wildlife
Common brown butterfly at Seven Mile Beach National Park

Tiny Beings, Big Mass of Wildlife

Invertebrates are by far the biggest number of species and the biggest amount of living biomass on any site. They fly around, burrow in the soil and swim in the water. So, in the food web, invertebrates are important mediators. They translate food into energy.

Predatory wasp nymph eating spider that mum stored in nest. Valuable wildlife
Predatory wasp nymph eating spider that mum stored in nest

Many permaculture designers had this idea of you have your intensive veggies in zone one and your fruit trees in zone two. And it’s not till zone four or five that you really have native plants to provide the habitat for your your native insects and other invertebrates. Sure, they provide habitat for native slaters, worms and millipedes and all those provide recycling and decomposing. But what we’re experimenting with at northeast street and in the book is mixing and matching native plants with exotic food plants. And also highlighting the role of native foods, or bush foods. And encouraging people to to grow more of them.

Book 'Inviting Nature to Dinner' promotes incorporation of wildlife

Bush Foods Feed Us Too

“I don’t think 25 million Australians… will ever be able to feed themselves totally on bush food plants. Because we’re no longer hunter-gatherers, like the original people were, with a much lower population rate. But there are many bush foods that we could be eating more. And the thing we highlight in the book is that those bush foods support or provide food for many more native insects and other invertebrates than our exotic food plants.

Bush lollies - walking stick palm Linospadix monostachyos 
very edible wildlife and people food
Linospadix monostachyos- Bush Lollies

Some exotic plants food plants support native insects but nowhere near the rate that the native plants will. And even with the exotic food plants we can still incorporate a lot of native plants in amongst our orchards and food forests. Native plants assist in enriching the soil. And they attract pollinators and herbivores to help with cycling of nutrients.

Rediscover Indigenous ‘Good Bug’ Mixes

“So what we’re experimenting with, (and finding good results) is incorporating native plants instead of exotics. A lot of permaculture people will plant good bug mix to bring in predatory wasps that will predate on caterpillars that might be eating our tomatoes or our corn”. But the good bug mix usually uses exotic plants like Queen Anne’s lace. “We know you can provide a much better effect through planting native plants. And get more support for your whole ecosystem. We’re hoping to be able to demonstrate that it really does work!” says a very happy Dick Copeman.

Farming For Her Community

Building community helps farmers. Direct marketing enables the farm to increase diversity and build a fairer income. Flavia Assuncao of  GrowingRootsPermaculture talks about her personal experience in farming and direct marketing.

“Some plants are very important for diversity but people don’t know how to cook” the harvests that Flavia and Bunya grow. But now, they have a whole community of supporters. Flavia says the close contact with customers encourages them to keeping farming. Customers take food to share with their whole family. I guess the main issue is like – sometimes I even cry because they say ‘this food is lifting my soul – or like, when I eat this food I have to the energy to concentrate. it is all an important part of their culture.’

Growing Support for Healthy Farming Practices

Flavia says “for me is what’s keeping me going”. Everytime when Flavia feels like – ‘argh! its too hard’ – she gets a message that someone coming! “Really the Islanders spirit (vibe) is, you know for them – life is beautiful and everything is okay and if they have it fully they are ahead and normally the bunch is when we sell you know commercial bunch is gonna be little. But I always make sure that I make it for them, Islander style.

I always say to them so they come they get so happy because normally for them food is to share. so you know i always make sure of that and they bring drink and food for us too. When we always get food from them when they come, they bring trays of pumpkin, taro and sweetcorn. “

Two-way exchange

“We learned so much well. We had some guys coming from Fiji /Sydney (750kms), do you know? So we were harvesting cassava and they were telling us: ‘Look, you can plant it like this…’ and so we get the perspective from so many different cultures as well and we learn. and it is so good and this is something that really brings me life,  because I am not from Australia as well, and once I had cassava and all these bananas to eat, I could see that I was really grounded here. Because it really is part of who I am. “

Mixed farming in Food Forest

Customers also show Flavia how to grow a mix of forest and have the animals together in the shade.

“They come here and tell me: ‘This is like Bali!’ (their home)! Where they grow forest,  they grow food,  and they have the animals together. They cook under the shade, together with the trees,  there’s no separation.  They are part (of the Ecosystem),  they live in spaces like this on their islands,  so  it’s so good to see how much inspired (encouragement) they get when they come in here,  and they feel home, this place feels like home for them.  it is very familiar landscape with bananas,  and they use the leaves from papaya, the leaves from cassava,  because on their island theirs resources are a bit short,  so they use so many different parts of plants,  bananas flowers, parts of the banana, they use everything to cook,

So we are learning so much of having all these cultures around us and  this connection  is actually really inspiring and rewarding, because they allow us to grow with  diversity.  and having different plants we have  different “tastes”  for everyone, and  they cannot find this food on the supermarket,  like pumpkin tips (shoots) , chokos tips (shoots) they cannot go to the supermarket to find that.. When they get here , they say: “Do you have taroooo!!! Betel leaf!!! I had a lady that bought  a whole box with betel leaf and while her daughter  was talking to me,  she started to eat in the car everything that had in their box. Because this food is part of who they are, and they miss they food.

Having all this culture around us that this meeting is actually really inspiring and rewarding.

Bunya and Flavia use clever food forest disruption to boost production.

Growing Diversity

I started selling only chillies, but now we have more them 20 produces in our list to sell every week, . It was a very slowly process, but  what we are building with the community is so strong,  that keep us growing (going for longer) as well.

The Value of Feeling Supported

Farming can be lonely but Flavia says “For us, this work is not about make a lot of money, in short time, It is more about building community, and empower people to grow their food., outside of our garden as well.  We also sell plant propagation  and we teach people and empower them to grow food in their backyard,   for example when we sell the Aibika, we always tell them to plant the sticks in their home garden. Our garden keep growing outside of “The farm “.

Flavia smiles “it’s working so well”

Support GrowingRootsPermaculture. Join their upcoming living agroforestry course.

Delight in Wildlife

Author Helen Schwencke shows us how to build complex eco-systems that support the wildlife and enrich our lives.

In our interview, Helen shares her delight in working with nature. Also, she explains why humanity needs to support little creatures. Her book, Inviting Nature to Dinner gives us handy tips on growing your favourite foods without poisoning our environment.

She recalls her childhood playing in nature and his positive experience has fuelled her to work as a scientist and create a rich little suburban garden full of butterflies.

Invite Nature Back Into the City

Helen says: “Back in the 1950s (and I’ve realized that this is where it actually starts).. I’m a very small child. I’m running around on a block of partly cleared land. And there’s all manner of little local native plant and native grasses and little creatures are flying off in all directions like little butterflies, little native bees, little grasshoppers, all different species. And I can just remember this sheer sense of joy and delight and I realize that nearly all my life has been about embracing that joy and delight. I lost it for a long time. But it’s really led me now in the work I’m doing to be sharing and caring about nature nature focus and nurtures us it improves our health and well-being

Helen’s work is about bringing back the delight of nature

Bring back our delight in nature

The easiest way to do it and the simplest way to do it is grow local native plants. The wildlife that they support directly is mostly little creatures. “And these are food for the birds and the frogs and the lizards and the microbats which can be supporting our crops”. But nearly every system of agriculture Helen see excludes wildlife. Because of our historical point of view of being settlers in our land that we don’t understand. Permaculture systems are enriched when they are designed to support wildlife.

Bathing in Nature

Helens “stuff” is about bathing in the nature that nurtures us in our own backyards. And bringing back that sense of aliveness. “We see the colors, the movement, the shapes and the textures of all the the creatures. The vast bulk of them do us no harm at all. In fact, they’re not even interested in our crops!”

Helen has a background as a biologist and ecologist by training. In about 1987 she became involved in butterfly gardening on an inner city Brisbane block. She has watched the transformations of over 75 different species of butterflies and other creatures going through their life cycles. Helen has seen increased complexity through her plantings of native plants. Especially native ground covers. Despite being surrounded by “green desolation” of the suburbs with pools, paving, grass and introduced plants.

Dragon fly

Simplifying ecosystems kills natures complexity

“New creatures are actually finding that space”…Helen became more aware as she collected leaves to feed to caterpillars to photograph their life cycles. “And it’s helped me understand and realize what my early childhood experience meant.”

Helen has learned how vital the animals are. And many invertebrates don’t have a name yet. So, creatures without backbones are important. They have an amazing role to play in food webs.

She can see that humanity is busy eliminating invertebrates wherever we can. And simplifying ecosystems so they can’t exist.

The core of Helen’s work at earthling enterprises is to show these animals as allies rather than competitors. “We need to interplant for biodiversity. This starts to recreate something of the amazing complexity of natural ecosystems in Australia. We can only do a little bit. But, anything is better than what we’re doing now. “